The co-evolution of syntactic and pragmatic complexity

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This chapter examines the diachronic rise of a syntactically and pragmatically complex construction type: pseudoclefts. Given that cleft constructions combine available components of grammar — relative clauses and copular clauses — do they arise in full-fledged form? If they emerge gradually, what constrains their development? We first present a corpus-based analysis of the history of English pseudoclefts and develop qualitative and quantitative measures to identify properties of pseudoclefts at different developmental stages. We then apply the same measures of grammaticalization in a synchronic comparison of pseudoclefts in contemporary spoken and written German, Swedish, and English in order to test their cross-linguistic validity. We find that pseudoclefts develop gradually in a process driven by the pragmatic exploitation of their presuppositional structure (Lambrecht 1994).


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